Black History Month in KCPS: Earl Thomas


For Black History Month, we are profiling prominent African Americans who made a significant and historic impact on Kansas City Public Schools. We want to give credit and our gratitude to the Black Archives of Mid-America in Kansas City and LINC for providing the images and information for this series.

Kansas City, February 13, 2020: Dr. Earl D. Thomas (1897-1985) dedicated his life to education and public service. Born in Kansas City, Kansas, he graduated from Sumner High School and later earned B.A. and M.A. degrees from the University of Chicago and a doctorate in education from the University of Kansas.

Students learn shoe repair at R.T. Coles School around 1944. (PHOTO CREDIT: Missouri Valley Special Collections, Kansas City Public Library, Kansas City, Missouri)

Thomas served as a teacher and administrator in the Kansas City, Missouri, school district for 35 years. A proponent of vocational arts, he became the first principal of the R.T. Coles Junior and Vocational High School when it opened in 1936. Thomas later served as principal of Lincoln High School, stepping down in 1963 to run for the city council. He won the third district seat, becoming the first African American to be elected councilman-at-large in the city’s history.

After retiring from political life in 1971, Thomas remained active in community affairs. He served as president of the Kansas City Urban League, was a charter member of the Kansas City Human Rights Commission, and was an active member of St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church. A skilled craftsman who built his own home, Thomas also led efforts to construct affordable housing in the city’s urban core.